Through Painstaking Building Restoration Efforts over Half a Century, One Family Has Preserved Our Area’s Greatest Treasures
Situated at the corner of Shawan and Beaver Dam roads, the Oregon General Store sat dilapidated and decaying in the mid-1980s. It had once been a thriving company store and post office that served iron-mining families in the surrounding Oregon Company town during the mid-1880s. But the property had been vacant for 50 years when a young Marty Azola came into the picture in 1985.
Marty, who in 1973 had joined the family building business begun by his dad, Joseph, devised Baltimore County’s first public/private preservation partnership. Then the Azola Company crews set to work restoring the 7,000-square-foot property, shoring up the foundation, restoring windows and reorienting the entryway from Shawan Road to the rear of the building. When the gleaming restoration project was completed in 1986, part of the first-level interior was re-created as a general store. Since 1992, the store has been home to the popular Oregon Grille restaurant.
“The success of the Oregon General Store prompted Baltimore County to establish a program to recycle surplus properties, especially historically significant buildings,” notes Marty in The Azola Legacy: 50 Years Rebuilding Baltimore, published last fall with Charles Belfoure.
Rich with anecdotes and compelling before-and-after photos, the book details the Azola family’s involvement in 26 restoration projects across Baltimore over half a century—ranging from the Old Baltimore County Jail in Towson and the Emerson Bromo-Seltzer Tower downtown to Rockland Village at the corner of Falls and Old Court roads.
“What’s neat about the business of historic preservation is that most of the projects we tackle include a real sense of pride and accomplishment—what I call ‘the glow from within.’ The projects I’m most proud of are the ones that, but for our efforts, would not be around today, like the Oregon General Store,” says Marty, who has held a seat on the Maryland Historical Trust’s Board of Trustees since 1995.
Another such project is the Maryland Building at the Maryland Zoo, a one-story wood frame “survivor” originally built for the Centennial International Exposition, America’s first world’s fair, which was held in Philadelphia and celebrated the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Dismantled after the fair and re-assembled in Druid Hill Park in 1886, the building was used over the decades as an administrative building for the zoo. But by 2008, the Maryland Building was engulfed by vegetation; it sat forlorn and rotting, with peeling yellow paint. Demolition seemed its fate.
But Marty and son Tony, today president of the Azola family business, were determined to restore and preserve this historical gem. Their team repaired the original tin standing-seam roof, replaced the rotting deck, and restored the exterior finials and porch balusters. Most crucially, their crews undertook a painstaking 10-month scraping and repainting effort that involved an analysis of 132 years’ worth of paint layers and drew on the expertise of Matthew Mosca, a historic paint finishes consultant. When the work was completed in 2010, the Maryland Building’s original polychrome color scheme (highlighted by light gray walls and contrasting burgundy trim) had been restored.
Just a few years later, the Azola company lent its expertise to restoring a much larger and more visible building at the Maryland Zoo: the Rogers Mansion. Built in 1801, it was sold by Lloyd Nicholas Rogers in 1860—together with the family’s 475-acre estate—to the city of Baltimore to become Druid Hill Park. Over the years, the mansion served as a public pavilion, a restaurant (billed as “every man’s country club in the very heart of Baltimore”), a day school, an exhibit area for the Maryland zoo and most recently as zoo administration offices.
It had fallen into disrepair when the Azola company began restoration work in 2010. A focal point of the team’s efforts: the 3-ton cupola atop the building that was rotting and leaning substantially. New steel beams would need to be installed to provide the necessary support.
“But the only way to get them up into the cupola was to design the steel in sections, which four men would then need to carry up the stairs,” explains Tony, whose team also repaired and restored windows and interior woodwork as part of the ambitious Rogers Mansion restoration effort that wrapped up in 2013.
While Marty is now officially retired, he and his wife, Lone, active president of Azola Building Services, LLC, and “the glue that binds the family together,” are proud that their children continue to run the family business. In addition to son Tony, president of the recently renamed Azola Building Rehab Inc., their daughter, Kirsten, is director of marketing and design. The couple’s son, Matthew, had been an integral part of the business until his untimely death in the summer of 2011. The Azola Legacy is dedicated to Matthew’s memory.
1944: Pietro Azzoli, a stonemason from Monte Casino, Italy, is naturalized and moves his family to Michigan. His son, Joseph Azola, opens J.R. Azola & Associates, Inc. at 305 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson in 1966. He dies in 1982.
1973: Joseph’s son, Marty, who attended Virginia Tech and served as a captain in the Alaskan Air Command, joins the family business.
Late 1980s: Under Marty’s leadership, the company grows to include 250 employees and rehabs more than 5 million square feet of commercial and residential space.
2015: The culmination of Marty’s career is the restoration of the Ivy Hotel in downtown Baltimore, accepted into the internationally renowned hotel association Relais & Chateaux.
2016 – Present: Tony, also a Virginia Tech graduate, takes the corporate reins. He is now restoring elements of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and hopes to soon start similar work on the Thomas Jefferson Monument. Meanwhile, in Baltimore, the Azola team will soon start restoring H. L. Mencken’s house in Union Square.